We Need To Talk About The “F” Word

HOW “FAKE NEWS” HAS ALTERED HOW WE COMMUNICATE

Public Relations pros need to think of themselves as reputable brand journalists, not Svengali-esque spin doctors.

Contributed by Liane O’Neill, Account Executive at The Abbi Agency.

There’s a popular saying: “everything in moderation.”Whether it’s brussels sprouts or glazed donuts, too much of anything will leave you feeling bloated and uncomfortable. It may even kill you. Well, the term “fake news” has fatigued us all during its short, oblique and tyrannical reign.

Consider this: Google searches for the term “fake news” have spiked by 5 times since this time last year. And that’s not even counting its peak at 12 times the rate of mentions back in January. We have been deluged with the “F-word” coming out of politicians’ mouths, print news, broadcast, left-wing and right-wing news.

We’re over hearing about it.

But here’s one more tiny spoonful of brussels sprouts for your consideration — we need to talk about it, or more specifically the effect fake news has had on mass media, and thereby public relations.

OUR MOST CREDIBLE SOURCE IS… NOT SO CREDIBLE

The combination of blatant media biases that emerged during the recent presidential election, in concordance with politicians and pundits leading the charge to label particular news sources as “fake,” has generated notable skepticism towards news.

In 2016, Gallup reported a historical low in consumer trust of media, with only 32 percent of Americans claiming they had a “great deal of trust” in the media.

While overall numbers have improved since, polling in 2017 reveals only 24 percent of adults have confidence in television news, 16 percent in online news and 27 percent in print newspaper journalism.

This is a problem for public relations, a discipline that builds brand credibility and consumer confidence through earned media placements. Does this mean public relations is dead? Absolutely not. However, it does mean we need to make some changes to fine-tune our approach and enhance the reputability of the brands we represent.

DIVERSIFY YOUR STRATEGY

Public relations has evolved to encompass so much more than its original definition. Influencers have joined members of the media in becoming highly influential disseminators of information on their blogs, their YouTube channels and their Instagram accounts, just to name a few platforms. What’s more, their followers are highly devoted — they trust and desire to emulate these influencers. These influencers are the future of public relations, and an essential component to modern strategies.

Additionally, a digital presence is more important than ever, with organic search now driving 51 percent of all web traffic to brand sites. Plan and craft content, bylines and pitches with SEO-friendly elements for mobile and desktop search to drive results you and your client can measure.

BE MINDFUL OF WHO YOU’RE PITCHING

One of the outcomes of this fake news phenomenon is that outlets have been assigned more “flavor” by the general public. As you craft your media strategy and build lists, consider if your client wants their brand associated with media outlets that have earned reputations for leaning left or right, reporting the facts or relying on a more op-ed style of journalism. Depending on the outlet, it could be helpful, neutral or prohibitive.

Additionally, be aware of who is actually consuming content from your target media outlets. This recent election made us conscious that liberal and conservative audiences consume media very differently.

Research your writers and editors to understand their reporting style and approach to covering similar news moments or brands. Investigative journalism has grown as a counter-movement to fake news, and there are multiple tools at journalists disposal now to fact-check and deep dive. If your client prefers only surface level messaging (for example, they do not wish to disclose certain aspects of their business, like funding) or their industry is sensitive or controversial, think carefully before considering journalists who have taken on this investigative role.

PROVIDE A HELPING HAND TO JOURNALISTS

Yes, writers and editors alike are more stressed out than ever by the demand to be squeaky factual, coupled by diminishing newsroom staff and the speeding news cycle.

Public relations professionals have the opportunity to be a conduit of the right information and sources. Research the journalist you’re pitching and understand what interests them. Share verified data that points to trends, offer sources you work with to speak to multiple facets of an issue or interest. Fact-check inaccuracies. Communicate.

An empathetic approach like this is the basis to a relationship that proves to be rewarding for both the media and the public relations professional.

Finally, stay informed of current trends in both public relations and journalism. Know that, while fake news has certainly altered how media and public relations professionals communicate, it is merely a new trend that we need to be cognizant of and adapt to.